The outcry of people over the economic hardship associated with the COVID-19 lockdown apparently forced the Federal Government to relax some safety rules. It reopened banks and markets with some operational guidelines. But these guidelines have been largely observed in the breach. The consequences can be dire. For instance, crowds of people have continued to besiege banks and some other public places without due regard for social distancing and wearing of masks.
This obtains because they have been indoors for long and probably have run out of cash. It could also be due to the propensity of some people to break established rules. Therefore, what will happen if anybody in the crowd has the disease is better imagined.
Transporters have also failed to adhere to instructions. In Lagos, which is the epicentre of the disease, commuters have little or no regard for safety measures. In most cases, there is no conscious effort to avoid close contact in sitting arrangement. People also do not strictly adhere to the use of face mask inside the bus.
Besides, some Nigerians do not comply with the ban on inter-state movement of people. There have been reports of interceptions of travellers in trucks from one state to another. Some bribe their way to their desired destinations through some secret routes in the night. The Almajirai and their sponsors have been breaking all known rules, moving from one state to the other with the attendant risks of spreading the virus.
Alarmed at the rate of non-compliance to the safety directives, the Lagos State Government threatened to reimpose total lockdown on Lagos. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who expressed regrets over these violations, warned: “If we do not see an improvement in the next couple of days, we would be forced to evoke the very painful decision of bringing the entire system under a lockdown again.”
Some European and Asian countries face a similar challenge. Emboldened by the recent drop in the COVID-19 death rates, these countries decided to ease lockdowns. But this appears to be counterproductive as some of the countries have started recording a spike in the disease. A few days ago, France reported a rise in cases after the country started easing restrictions imposed on March 17. In South Korea, there was a resurgence of the disease in the capital, Seoul. After dozens of confirmed cases surfaced, the government shut down all bars and clubs. In the city of Wuhan in China, which recorded the first cases in December 2019, there were reports of new confirmed infections after relaxing the lockdown. Consequently, local Chinese authorities fired an official for poor management over the closing-off and control of the Sanmin residential community in Wuhan. Hong Kong and some other countries are in the same boat.
Obviously, Nigerians do not wish for another total lockdown. But it may happen if care is not taken. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has even warned against flouting the lockdown rules. The Nigerian Medical Association has also frowned upon the easing of the lockdown. Already, there is an exponential increase in the number of cases since the easing of the lockdown. A few days ago, Nigeria recorded 381 cases, the highest number so far in one day. Now, over 4,000 cases have been recorded in the country with Lagos still leading the pack. This could be because of the increased testing of people occasioned by an increase in the number of testing centres. It could also be because people no longer strictly adhere to the guidelines.
While we do not subscribe to total lockdown, we advise that Nigerians should choose between obeying the rules and risking a total lockdown again. We think obeying the guidelines is a better option. Now that some offices have reopened, people, especially those with underlying health issues, should avoid being in close proximity with other people in workplaces. Except when it is inevitable, people should avoid visiting crowded places like banks but make more use of online channels to do their transactions.
In the same vein, commuters should be extra careful while entering public transport. As much as possible, they should not enter buses without their face masks and while in the bus, they should avoid close contact with people. Government, on her part, must fulfil its obligations towards the people. It should not impose a lockdown when the majority of the populace has nothing to fall back on. Lockdowns must be followed by palliatives that will get to the majority of the vulnerable population. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reiterated this fact last April in one of its statements on the pandemic.
The government should also embark on more enlightenment campaigns on how to avoid COVID-19. It should provide the necessary test kits and ensure that the recent protests by patients in isolation centres in Abuja, Gombe and elsewhere do not recur. Everybody must take responsibility if we must defeat this common enemy of mankind.